Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mt Hakkoda and Iwaki

Two of the most accessible mountains in our area are Mt Hakkoda and Mt Iwaki. Both are volcanic and are still active to some degree. Because of this (and other obvious factors) we tend to stick to marked trails. Because we have hiked as many times as we have, we have come across many different trail conditions. We had a number of friends hiking with us this day, and it wasn't the greatest of hiking days.

This particular day hiking Hakkoda, the peak was so windy and hazy you couldn't see anything.
In fact, it's a miracle my camera stood up to take this picture. Watch the video below this picture if you don't believe me.

Once we got down from the higher altitudes, it was a very nice day for hiking. Since we had only seen this area covered in snow, we were presently surprised to see all the marsh land along the hike. Little ponds like this dotted the lower altitudes of Hakkoda.

Another hike we did early in the summer was Mt Iwaki. It has a number of trail heads, but this particular one starts at a Shinto Shrine and is quite aesthetic. This is actually a picture of Iwaki-san we had taken a couple of weeks earlier with the apple trees blossoming. This area of Japan is known for it's apples, so it was neat to get some pictures of the trees blossoming.

Our friends Alan, Lisa, and Matt came with us to tackle this Volcano. I'm afraid Matt might not come with us again, though. For an overnight camping/mountain hiking trip he brought Chex mix, tent, sleeping bag, pillow, bar of Dove soap, and a backpack with a broken strap.
Luckily we had some extra stuff for him to borrow, and some brat for him to eat after the hike.

Although we had pretty good weather for this hike, we ended up not being able to complete it. The snow was still too heavy towards the top. When we saw a park ranger turning around in front of us, we decided we should do the same.

Even though the trails are covered in snow for much of the spring and early summer, there are ways of staying on the trail. All the trails we hike are in our hand held GPS and are marked by rangers with the fluorescent tape (like you see in the picture below). So between the two, it's pretty easy to stay on course.

Here are the weary hikers back at the base of the mountain. Iwaki won this day, but we'll be back to conquer him.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mt Chokai

This past summer we realized we wanted to climb the famous Mt Fuji. But before we tackled Japan's tallest and most known mountain, we needed to get into climbing shape. We started off at the end of May about 50 km south of Akita at Mt Chokai.This area is not frequented by many Americans, so we got frequent stares and 'hello how are you' attempts. When we actually got to the base of the mountain, they were about to close a gate blocking off access. Luckily, we got across to them that we were camping and didn't intend to hike that night. The campground we stayed at was completely abandoned (as are many campgrounds in Japan until August).

Mt Chokai gets a lot of snowfall, so there was still plenty of the white stuff left at the beginning of Spring. We were wondering if we were going to be able to hike the trail, but a bunch of old Japanese people set off in front of us. The hike itself was beautiful (about 2/3 of it being in the snow) since most of the trail was above the tree line. There was so much snow that many of the hikers we saw were doing a ski descent.

The hike itself took us 5 hours up and three down...a long hike for the first one of the season, but it was worth it. The picture below is us at one of Mt Chokai's three peaks. Even though there was a lot of snow, the temperatures were pretty nice. Only once we got close to the top did we have to really layer up.

One of the really fun things about hiking/camping in Japan is the interaction you have with fellow Japanese hikers. After our hike we stayed in a mountain hut at the trail head due to it being rainy. One of the guests at the hut knew pretty good English (much to the delight of the manager), so we ended up talking with them for a long while.

Before we met them they said they were surprised we were Americans, because we were so quiet. They had heard us Yankees are loud and obnoxious, so it was nice to let them see otherwise. Although we were exhausted from the hike, we stayed up to about 11pm talking with them (the manager said he usually closes the living area at 10pm, but this was a special occasion).

The manager even broke out a bottle of wine and a bottle of sake to share with us. He kept telling us how much he loved Kentucky "Bubun" (Bourbon). We plan on going back this spring and bringing him a bottle. One of the young guys even made us some noodles.

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2008 Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival

Every spring Japan celebrates the blooming of the cherry blossom tree (which does not produce cherries). Last year we attended the cherry blossom festival at the Hirosaki castle and noticed the Japanese would have "tarp parties." All this involves, as the name suggests, is a tarp, food, and drink.

The food of choice is sushi, and the drink of choice for these tarp parties is sake. Sake is a rice wine native to Japan. There are several different types (some you drink hot, some cold, some room temperature). We have a friend who is a Japanese medical student (Hiro) that organized our own little tarp party.

Many of these tarp parties are Japanese college students, and their level of intoxication was sort of scary. As we were exiting the castle grounds it looked like a war zone with the bodies of passed out Japanese college students scattered around.

Although Amy and our friend Lyndsey are doing a great impersonation of these students, we kept our drinking a little more moderate...well, Amy and Lyndsey did anyway.

I know this picture isn't from the festival, but I had to throw it in there. We had a costume party (how old are we?) at the bowling alley for our friend Lyndsey's birthday. We went as crash test dummies. Next up....summer hiking!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Winter 2008

In our part of Japan it tends to snow a little. And this past winter was no exception. Although it makes driving a pain, it also gives us the opportunity to do some winter activities not available in Texas

Over the last two winters we have been proud members of the Misawa Mogul Mashers...it's a skiing/snowboard club that charters a bus every Saturday headed for a different resort. Although the mountains in Japan are nothing like the Rockies, they still offer good skiing with a quarter of the crowd.

We both have gone on snowshoeing trips, as well. I found out how hard it is to hike up a mountain with skis in tow, then dodge trees skiing down. The picture below is actually a one story building buried in snow.

Amy also went on a snowshoe trip with a group of friends. Unfortunately I was on call, so I couldn't join them. No one fell in a pond or a stream, so it was a successful trip.

At the end of the winter they clear a road near to Mt Hakkoda which is only about an hour from us. It's fun to drive through. We actually came up behind one of the plows that builds this snow canyon.

Next up...cherry blossom time.